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Piece of Mind: Destigmatizing Mental Health

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“Piece of Mind,” a series of monologues discussing mental health, premiered last Friday in Student Center’s Pacific Ballroom to an audience including students, faculty and staff as well as Representative Grace Napolitano (CA-32).

Kimberly Van | New University
Kimberly Van | New University

Directed by Cynthia Bassham, Jane Page, and faculty members in the drama department, “Piece of Mind” was a collaboration between Wellness, Health and Counseling Services and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

“You’d think they were living it,” Napolitano said, praising the 17 drama students for their impassioned performances.

With performances based on interviews with volunteers, this year saw the reintroduction of the project after a brief hiatus. Usually offered only to graduate students, the Friday performance marked the first time Bassham has opened the opportunity to undergraduates, as well as the first time the project focused solely on a single issue.

During her keynote, Napolitano lauded the performance for its realistic portrayals that not only captured the emotional experiences of people who face mental illnesses, but also the help that they sought.

“And the fact that they recognize that this is something real,” she added.

However, Napolitano also noted the importance of cultural representation during the performance. She drew attention to Latin@ culture, in which mental illness is not seen, heard or talked about.

“Especially the machismo,” she said, referring to a sense of masculinity that stigmatizes against seeking help for mental health issues among Latin@s.

Napolitano also drew attention to the lack of accessibility in communities where federal funding for mental health services had been cut as well as the fear of deportation harbored by undocumented immigrants that prevents them from seeking help for mental health issues. She also cited the need to educate law enforcement to improve their treatment of people who face mental illness.

Vice Chancellor Thomas Parham shared this sentiment, saying that too often people of color, especially Black people, don’t see themselves and their experiences reflected in mental health issues.

“Mental health services pathologizes and misunderstands Black men,” Parham said. Himself a psychologist, Parham went on to say that mental health services often employ a “difference as deficiency” logic without accounting for the particular needs of people of color.

During the panel discussion, Dr. Marcelle Holmes, assistant vice chancellor, wellness, health and counseling services, asked panelists what stigmas or stereotypes are present in Orange County, and at UCI particularly, that prevent conversations regarding mental health.

“No one is free from this,” said Steve Pitman, president of the Orange County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, referring to the stigmatization of mental illness even within communities of mental health providers. Pitman assumed that providers taking a NAMI class would have been the most open sharing their experiences with those they knew who faced mental illness. Instead, they denied having personal experience, or even knowing anyone, with mental illness, preferring to share clinical experiences with patients.

“Where’s the boundary between the eccentric behavior of the guy who has the office next door and things that I should be concerned about?” Robert Moeller, a professor in the department of history, asked, referring to the academic setting and its potential for avoidance and denial of mental health issues. He pointed to the stressful and political nature of attaining tenure as one of the issues that contribute to the development of mental health issues among academics.

Parham also addressed the current overwhelmed state of UCI’s mental health services, saying that the long wait lists are unacceptable. Students have shared this concern with representatives from the search committee for the next chancellor, stating the urgent need for the expansion and improvement of services, especially for graduate students.